USS Congress (1799) - Quasi-War


See also: Quasi-War

Congress launched on 15 August 1799 under the command of Captain Sever. After fitting-out in Rhode Island, she set off on her maiden voyage 6 January 1800 sailing in company with Essex to escort merchant ships to the East Indies. Six days later she lost all of her masts during a gale. Because her rigging had been set and tightened in a cold climate, it had slackened once she reached warmer temperatures. Without the full support of the rigging, all the masts fell during a four-hour period, killing one crew member trying to repair the main mast.

The crew rigged an emergency sail and limped back to the Gosport Navy Yard for repairs. While there, some of Sever's junior officers announced that they had no confidence in his ability as a commanding officer. A hearing was held, and Captain Sever was cleared of any wrongdoing and remained in command of Congress, though many of his crew soon transferred out to Chesapeake.

Remaining in port for six months while her masts and rigging were repaired, she finally sailed again on 26 July for the West Indies. Congress made routine patrols escorting American merchant ships and seeking out French ships to capture. On two occasions she almost ran aground; first while pursuing a French privateer, she ran into shallow water where large rocks were seen near the surface. Although their exact depth was not determined, Sever immediately abandoned pursuit of the privateer and changed course towards deeper waters. Her second close call occurred off the coast of the Caicos Islands, when during the night she drifted close to the reefs. At daybreak her predicament was discovered by the lookouts.

A peace treaty with France was ratified on 3 February 1801 and Congress returned to Boston in April. In accordance with an act of Congress passed on 3 March and signed by President John Adams, thirteen frigates then currently in service were to be retained. Seven of those frigates, including Congress, were to be placed in ordinary. En route to the Washington Navy Yard, she passed Mount Vernon on her way up the Potomac and Captain Sever ordered her sails lowered, flag at half mast, and a 13-gun salute fired to honor the recently deceased George Washington. Congress decommissioned at Washington along with United States and New York.

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